Saturday, June 19

Making a fashion statement with masks – Monterey Herald

CARMEL — Sarah Kallison believed, from the very beginning, that COVID-19 masks would shift from function to fashion.

The Carmel Woods fashionista, who has collected some two-dozen masks, plus the package of 50 surgical masks she bought first, believed she needed backstock since she assumed masks should be laundered daily. Now she collects them like some women buy shoes.

“Masks are like neckties,” she said, “which not many people are wearing any more, but they’re a fun, cool, colorful accessory. I’ve ordered a whole bunch of masks, having allocated money I might have spent on clothes, to my mask collection. If you go for really interesting or beautiful masks, it’s like collecting art.”

Brian Gumtang

The prettiest masks Kallison has found in Carmel are the five cotton-lined silk coverings she bought at apparel boutique Johnny Was, on Ocean Avenue.

“We brought in 500 masks, in both cotton and silk, and sold out in a month,” said Johnny Was Assistant Manager Brian Gumtang. “Our silks were the most popular, but all of them were beautiful, in florals, tribal prints, and Bohemian patterns. But don’t worry; we’re expecting our new shipment soon.”

Function and form

Until recently, masks primarily protected the well-being of surgeons, dentists, and manicurists, and the anonymity of bandits. Now, no matter who we are or what we do, we all are supposed to be wearing masks. And most of us are.

Ceci Rangel

When the coronavirus came to the United States, the CDC recommended wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where physical-distancing is difficult to maintain, such as grocery stores, pharmacies and medical offices. On June 18, Governor Gavin Newsom made masks mandatory in all public settings throughout California.

While masks may seem like a nuisance, people find ways to make things work. Since reports generally indicate we’re in this for the long haul, we’re getting creative, taking masks beyond personal protective equipment to portray personal style.

Designing women

Kallison also collects masks from Seaside-based fashion designer Ceci Rangel, whom she met during a couture fashion course at Monterey Peninsula College. Although Rangel is known for designing custom special-occasion garments — wedding gowns, ballgowns, prom and quinceañera dresses — those celebrations have been postponed, causing her to shift her creative expression to making masks. Think sequins, beading, fringe, and fine fabrics.

Ceci Rangel

“The first masks I made were for my family. I thought, if we’re going to have to wear these, we need to find a way to adjust to them, to be comfortable,” Rangel said. “I am very aware that we’re wearing masks to protect ourselves and others, but I love the artistry and fashion that’s possible with masks if we get creative.”

Ericka Engelman, of her legendary design house Ericka Engelman Couture, was running into the same circumstance as Rangel, with every postponed event. Renowned for her bespoke wedding gowns, the Salinas-based designer found herself with a lot of half-made gowns, as weddings were moved to 2021.

Meanwhile, the demand for designer masks continues to climb.

“At first, everyone seemed to be making masks for family and first responders,” she said. “I was giving away all my elastic because it became as scarce as toilet paper. My husband and I really support mask-wearing, so I decided I should start making masks, too.”

Using whatever fabric remnants were available in her salon, Engelman made more than 600 masks. Then her creative-design genius kicked in.

“I saw a photograph of a girl whose mask had a tiny flap in the front, covering a hole through which she was sipping something through a straw. I thought it was clever,” she said, “but not practical since it exposed the mouth.”

Salinas-based designer Ericka Engelman created“The Sipper,” a two-layer mask with a pleat on each side, behind which is a buttonhole through which to stick a straw. (Photo courtesy of Ericka Engelman)

So, she started drawing. Engelman designed “The Sipper,” a two-layer mask with a pleat on each side, behind which is a buttonhole through which to stick a straw. Since the pleats are off to the side of the mask, she says, the wearer remains completely covered. Engelman, whose Sipper masks are sold at “Wish,” a gift boutique in Walnut Creek, and through Etsy, at “Gotcha Covered Shop,” sent out another 60 sipper masks this week.

“I’ve made couture masks to match apparel and to complement COVID weddings,” she said. “It creates a whole different look. I’m certainly having fun with this. It’s like dressing up without putting on makeup.”

In her Carmel boutique, “Ruffle Me to Sleep,” designer Dee Borsella’s custom loungewear, robes, and sleepwear are known for beautiful fabrics that feel soft to the hand. And now, so do her masks.

“I’ve been making masks ever since we were asked to wear them,” Borsella said. “I put masks on the stuffed animals I bring in from Germany, and placed them in the front window. People started asking for the masks, happy to know they could buy pretty masks locally and not have to order online.”

Several people have bought stuffed animals, to help children become comfortable wearing a mask.

Ericka Engelman

Some of Borsella’s masks are silk, and some are soft cotton, all with a simple elastic over the ears. At first, it was impossible to get elastic, so she used her ruffled decorative elastic remnants, making her masks fancy.

“The beautiful fabrics I use make masks fashion,” she said, “while the shape and softness support their function. I started doing this as a service to the community and have now made more than 1,000 masks. I see my masks all over town. It feels good to know I’m helping people stay safe.”

The art of giving

Artist Janet Roberts is partial to scarves. The equestrian prefers to tie on a neckerchief and pull it onto her face when necessary. But she also got the idea to print images of her abstract paintings — the ones that say “Love” across the canvas — onto masks. Mostly she gives them to children and adults who need them.

Artist Janet Roberts prints images of her abstract paintings — the ones that say “Love” across the canvas — onto masks. (Photo courtesy of Janet Roberts)

“Every time I sell a painting, I figure out how much of that I can give away through masks,” said the artist, from her studio atop Corral de Tierra. “Much has been made of masks, but I actually think people like the look of face shields. We can eat and drink, talk, engage, read expressions. People can feel a sense of protection and still show our face.”


Debra Couch read, in Women’s Wear Daily, the trade journal known as “the bible of fashion,” that lipstick sales are down, while eye makeup sales are up. Thanks to the mask mandate, the focus on the face has shifted upward to the eyes.

There also is a lot of focus, she says, on face masks as an essential accessory to complete an outfit. In fact, at “Debra C,” her women’s designer and private-label salon in The Crossroads Carmel, so many customers asked for masks to complement their clothing, Couch created a whole new classification in the store.

“When someone comes in to purchase a jacket or an outfit, we direct them to the masks that will go with it. We all know masks are part of an essential protocol, and they should be,” she said, “but we can make them very ‘fashion aware.’ They’re like sunglasses. A fashion statement.”

Today, says Couch, the well-dressed woman will choose a mask-like she chose her lipstick. Just the right pop of color, and she’s out the door.

Designer Debra Couch says the well-dressed woman will choose a mask-like she chose her lipstick. Just the right pop of color and she’s out the door. (Photo courtesy of Ceci Rangel)


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